SUPER NATURE 2012-2013

As urban populations increase in density and number, and the scope and geometry of agriculture grow correspondingly, human contact with the natural world is rapidly superseded and remade. This was our starting point: An observation that in the metropolis 'nature' is visibly overwritten by human systems and can only be apprehended as a prior state, an enhanced replacement, a hybrid condition, or at times a resurgent rebellious wildness. This is the 'Supernature' we proposed to examine and within which we found space to work.


Our case study was New York City, which we visited at the end of November. New York City is often described as the paradigm of the 20th-century metropolis, the ultimate demonstration of human domination of nature, a Cartesian triumph of commerce and aspiration over and on top of geography and geology, flora and fauna. 


In the 20th century, New York City represented polar positions of modernity and obsolescence, progress and rampant and destructive capital systems. It has swung from periodic abundance and excess during the 1920s and 1980s, to fiscal and political stalemate and population flight, as in the 1930s and 1970s. These positions can be read in the artifacts of our time: from the cinema, song, and poetry of the Roaring Twenties, or the fantasies of Urban Jungle, isolation, and a mega-prison island of dystopian films of the late 70s and early 80s. And yet the very same systems of transport and distribution, property grid, and money, cultural production, and consumption that made New York City the main hub and principal port of North America continue, funneling food and energy and circulating and clearing away water, waste, steam, power.


Within New York there exists scope for examinations of our topic both micro and macro, from labyrinthine water and waste and transport systems down to the subtle and the shifting foraging strategies of bees and foxes within the built environment. Potential areas of investigation would range from food production and systems of cooling, preservation, and distribution, to the technological and architectural strategies for managing crises of weather and fire in vertical neighborhoods. In a built system, the management of risk may be an unavoidable topic. A city is also a place of intense cultural production, and the representation (and thus our beliefs) of nature is correspondingly a palimpsest of celluloid and digital fragments.  


City parks have a prized history in human culture and would inevitably form a part of an investigation Into our idea. The urban park may represent an idea of a previous state, of 'pure' nature, or it may self-consciously conflate ecologies, combining for an enhanced super-experience, a 'better-than', idealized moment of natural history. In the near future, gene research promises enhanced tree species that might light our city streets with an arboreal glow, or suck carbon emissions more rapidly from the air, becoming more actual 'green lungs'. In a game of spatial compensation and transferral, we dot our cities with green voids, to indicate 'breathing room'. Central Park represents an idealised nature, highly constructed, though with the specific design Intent of re-imaging an absent or historical natural condition. Construction photos of the installation of Central Park reveal the degree of manipulation and artistry at work in this apparent wild space within the grid.



New York offers a rich catalogue of the phenomena we are referring to as 'supernature'. A built grid surface covers almost the entire island of Manhattan, replicating (in vertical section) the ground, and taking its place functionally and apparently. In places this layering of built grounds is revealed or can be seen; in places, nature reasserts itself, and this reassertion has sometimes become the basis for new public space. 


Project 1 invited research and speculation from afar in advance of our study journey. Students were asked to select an instance of Supernature within the boundaries of New York and to construct a three-dimensional investigation of their findings. They were given one-dimensional constraint, X = 30cm Y = 60cm, and asked to construct a supporting metal frame. The completed models were then ass em bled into a propositiona I city grid. At the start of Project 2 we visited New York, the object of our speculations. Along the rivers and rail lines, underground, and along it we sought instances of our topic. We identified the changing water-front as an ideal place for our proposals. Until recently New York Harbor was the site of intense industrial processing and shipping, and is now undergoing rapid transformation, from industry to fallow post-industrial abandonment, and finally to a kind of productionless rejuvenation as upmarket housing. Hurricane Sandy had recently struck the city, and we focused or investigations on some of the areas of the city directly affected by the storm, particularly the East River, Red Hook and Coney Island waterfronts. Our project proposals focused on these areas, both for their ongoing programmatic transformations and as a place of interface with larger climatic conditions. Our proposals embrace and anticipate a wide range of possibility for production and distribution, urban agriculture,cultural creation, health and housing, botany and commerce within the changing city.  



Y2 Students:


Susan (Supichaya) Chaisiriroj,

Muzhi Chen,

George Courtauld,

Jaemin Kim,

Kar Tung (Karen) Ko, Maggie Lan,

Huynh Nguyen,

Hoi Yiu (Carolyn) Wong, Jessica Wang,

Yiren (Aviva) Wang,

Anqi (Angel) Yu


Y3 Students:


Tahora Azizy,

Hannah Bowers,

Katie Cunningham,

Oi-Yee (Helen) Siu,

Alexia Souvalioti